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Lateral & Other Gaits
From sdstangi@FLASH.LakeheadU.CA Sat Nov 13 00:43:47 1993
Subject: lateral gaits FAQ for req.equestrian
The following articles are an explanation of the lateral gaits that are
common to various, so-called "gaited" horse breeds (and also individual
horses of other breeds that show gaits other than walk, trot and canter).
Although I tried to research everything thoroughly, there may be inaccu-
racies. This article could at least make a start for an FAQ on gaits.
The first part covers the history of the gaited horse in Europe and the
Western world, and explains a lot about different gaited breeds. Thanks
to Ann Warrington for digging it up and typing the whole thing and for
checking over part 2.
The second part covers details of the lateral gaits, written from the
Icelandic Horse perspective (because that's what I'm most familiar
with). So I called the gait 'tolt'. (I think 'tolt' is more common
than 'toelt' in North America at least. 'Tolt' is pronounced like
'told' with a 't'. The 'oe' in 'toelt' is actually the Umlaut 'o with
2 dots on top'. I don't know how to explain the pronounciation in
The third part is an attempt at a summary of all the gaited breeds of
the world and the variations of the lateral gaits they do.
We can add a short paragraph about every breed (with people who know
the breed writing it), and something about riding the lateral gaits for
that particular breed (although that is very difficult, as even horses
of the same breed with similar training may need slightly different
treatment). A bibliography would be a good idea too, although that
really belongs to the book FAQ.
Please point out any mistakes to me :-).
Stef and the Icelandics Baldur & Jarpur
Stefanie D. Stangier email@example.com
Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Part 1- GAITS & GAITED HORSES by Janeen S. DeBoard
"Gaits don't just happen; heredity is a primary
A "Gaited" horse is one which performs any of the four-beat lateral
gaits in place of or in addition to the trot. These gaits are the stepping
pace, the rack, the running walk and the fox-trot. Some of the world's most
popular breeds are gaited horses and their numbers are growing rapidly in the
United States, as more and more people from all walks of life take up riding
for show and pleasure.
Until the early Eighteenth Century, when shock-absorbing springs for carriages
were invented and stone-paved roads to drive the carriages on were built,
anyone who wished to travel had to sit on a horse's back. In England, Europe
and Scandinavia, the trotters were dismissed as "bone- shakers", fit
only for packwork and for servants to ride.
The desired riding horses was the "palfrey", any gentle mare or
gelding which could perform one of the lateral gaits. We do not know exactly
which of the gaits these horses performed, since any lateral gait was referred
to as "ambling", but most likely the individual palfreys performed
each of them at one time or another.
Much confusion always has existed about how to define and judge the lateral
gaits. The names tend to be used loosely and interchangeably, because it is
difficult to see exactly what a horse is doing with each foot as he steps
along. Each gait will, of course, have a different look to it, depending upon
the amount of speed, the amount of collection, the length of stride, the breed
of horse, and the skill of the horse performing it: but it is only the specific
pattern of footfalls which defines a gait, not the general appearance of the
horse in motion or the subjective opinion of the observer.
The trot is still the trot, whether it is performed slowly and softly as the
"jog" by a Western pleasure horse or with extreme speed and extension
as the"racing trot" by a Standardbred. The stepping pace is still the
stepping pace, whether it is performed with tiny, dainty steps as the
"fino fino" by a Paso Fino or with greater speed and animation as the
"slow-gait" by an American Saddlebred.
Adding to the confusion are show ring trends and fashions. A quieter horse with
precise and correct gaits is going to be overshadowed by a fast, exciting,
wild-going horse that thrills the crowd and wins the class. Naturally it is the
crowd-pleaser that will become the model for the breed and be studied on
slow-motion tapes-even though he may well be slurring and hopping his way
through his gaits and setting a misleading example for those those try to
Yet it is possible to define, without guesswork, the exact sequence of
footfalls for each individual gait and to recognize precisely how each gait is
different from the others. There are only so many patterns in which a horse can
move his four feet !
The RUNNING WALK is a comfortable gait during which the horse always has
either two or three feet on the ground. Suspension occurs only with the front
feet, not the hind, which is why the gait is often described as "trotting
with the front feet and walking with the hind".
he FOX-TROT might be described as the reverse of the running walk-
suspension occurs only with the hind feet, not the front, and can be described
as "walking with the front feet and trotting with the hind".
The STEPPING PACE got its name because the horse's hind foot steps down
just before the front foot of the same side strikes the ground. The horse
always has either one or two feet on the ground. Suspension occurs first with
the hind legs, as they change places, then with the front legs. The stepping
pace is comfortable for horse and rider and has a dainty,showy appearance.
The RACK is to the stepping pace what the racing gallop is to the
canter. It is performed at great speed with only one foot on the ground at any
one time, which is why it is sometimes called the SINGLEFOOT. There is a
complete moment of suspension-all four feet are off the ground-between each
footfall. The true rack is spectacular, but it is tiring for horse and rarely
seen. Upon close examination, it can be seen that most racking horses are
actually performing a fast steppin pace.
It is easy to see how the combination of footfalls and moments of suspension
combine to create each individual gait. It is also clear how faults can creep
in, if either footfalls or suspension are imprecise at any moment in the
sequence. For example, is a Walking Horse begins showing even a brief moment of
suspension with the hind legs, he is, technically, performing not the running
walk but the stepping pace. And if a horse attempting the stepping pace fails
to show suspension with the front legs, he will actually be performing the
Of the gaited breeds in the world today, one of the oldest is the Icelandic
Horse. When the Vikings settled Iceland in the Ninth Century, they brought with
them ambling horses from Britain and created their own sturdy type of palfrey
which could stand up to extreme cold, rugged terrain and hard work. The
Icelandic Horse was, and still is, truly five-gaited; it is shown at the flat
walk, trot, canter and stepping pace (tolt) ;raced under saddle at the pace
(flugskeid, or flying pace) and some can perform the rack (also called the
tolt). This island nation has been closed to outside horses for nearly 1000
years, and so today's Icelandic Horses are still much like those of the Viking
During the Middle ages, the palfreys bred in Spain were considered the finest
and most beautiful in the world. They were called Spanish Jennets and when
Spanish nobelmen first settled in South America and the Caribbean Islands, they
took many of these prized horses with them. Today, the descendents of those
early Spanish Jennets are known as Paso Finos and Peruvian Pasos.
The Paso Fino is widely bred in Puerto Rico, Columbia and the United States.
ALthough some outside blood was occasionally added- usually Arabian, Morgan or
American Saddlebred- to gain size and substance, the modern Paso Fino is a
close representation of the old Spanish Jennet and still can be thought of as
one of the world's most coveted palfreys.
Paso Finos perform the flat walk, the fino fino or paso fino, which is a slow,
showy stepping pace with short, quick strudes and little forward movement; the
paso corto, a stepping pace performed with medium speed and collection; the
paso largo, a fast, extended version of the stepping pace; and the canter.
The Peruvian Paso developed in isolation in Peru, largely cut off from the rest
of the world by the Andes Mountains. It is a combination of the Spanish Jennet
and a small amount of Friesian blood; the large, warmblood Friesian work horses
were brought in by the Dutch settlers in the early Seventeenth Century when the
Dutch East India Company was attempting to take control of Peru's gold mines.
The Friesian influence produced a horse that is somewhat larger and heavier
than the Paso Fino, but still retains the lateral gait and gentle nature of the
Spanish Jennet. [*editors note: please read note following this article*]
Peruvian Pasos perform the paso llano, a showy stepping pace; and the
sobreandando, a precise running walk performed with quick steps of the hind
The palfreys and Jennets of the Old World largely disappeared with the advent
of good carriages and roads. The carriages were more comfortable for travel,
and powerful, showy trotters were preferred over the small ambling palfreys for
work in harness. Fortunately a number of gentle-gaited horses were taken to
North America by the early English colonishts, who had need of good riding
horses in a roadless frontier land. The palfrey of New England became known as
the Narragansett Pacer and was used for both riding and driving.
One of the English palfrey's best known descents is the American Saddlebred,
which was created by adding Thoroughbred and Morgan blood to the Narragansett
Pacer in an effort to get a fancy, but good-natured riding horse.
In five gaited classes, Saddlebreds are asked to 'slow-gait", which
originally could be either the stepping pace, the running walk, or the
fox-trot, as the rider chose. This is a holdover from the early days of the
Saddlebred, when it was not yet fixed as a specific breed and the gaits still
varied among individuals. Today, however, virtually all Saddlebreds perform an
animated stepping pace when asked to slow-gait. The show ring command to
"rack-on" usually is answered with a fast, flashy stepping pace,
although there are some Saddlebreds that can do a true rack with tremendous
speed and action.
The Tennessee Walker, the Missouri Fox Trotter and the racking horse all
appeared at about the same time as the Saddlebred and were created in much the
The Tennessee Walker performs the flat walk, the running walk noted for its
nodding head and extremely long overstride with the hind feet, and the canter.
The Missouri Fox Trotter performs the flat walk; the fox-trot; and the canter.
Although the fox-trot is natural to the breed, it is difficult for many horses
to perform a pure fox-trot when pushed for speed and collection so it is not
uncommon to see, in the show ring, horses which are actually performing a
stepping pace with extended forelegs rather than a true fox-trot.
The racking horse performs the flat walk, the slow rack, which is actually a
slow, collected stepping pace; and the fast rack, which for some horses is a
fast stepping pace and for others a true rack. Racking horses are not asked to
canter in the show ring.
The newest of the gaited breeds is the National Show Horse, a cross of the
Arabian and the American Saddlebred. Like the Saddlebred, many National Show
Horses can do the stepping pace - and, in some cases, the rack- and are shown
in five gaited classes.
END OF ARTICLE
Note from Michael J. Doherty Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org: The earlier article mentions
the Dutch East Indies Co. in Peru as the source of Friesian blood in the
Peruvian Paso; I've been a breeder of Peruvian Pasos for 15 years and have
never heard that story from my Peruvian friends. The Spanish ruled the
Netherlands for a time and brought Friesian blood back to Spain with them;
this, combined with Andalusian, Barb and Jennet is generally considered, in
Peru, to be the source bloodlines of the Peruvian Paso.
LATERAL INTERMEDIATE GAITS
MOTION AT THE TOLT
At this gait the feet touch the ground in the same order as at the
| (4)| (1) rear left
forward |(2) | (2) front left
| | | (3) rear right
| | (3)| (4) front right
Since you hear 4 hoof beats before the cycle starts over, this is a
four-beat gait like the walk.
The next step is to identify which legs carry the weight at which
point. This is where the difference between rack and walk comes in.
Starting again at the left rear (for convenience; you can start
anywhere you like), this is the foot that first touches the ground.
For a moment this leg supports all the weight. There is never a phase
in which all hooves are off the ground, such as in a two-beat trot or
pace. That leads to the smoothness of the ride.
The figure below shows the phases at the rack:
(1) single-leg support, left hind
(2) lateral two-leg support on the left
(3) single-leg support, left front
(4) diagonal support, front left, hind right
(5) single leg support, right hind
(6) lateral two-leg support, right
(7) single-leg support, right front
(8) diagonal support, right front, left hind
and then phase (1) starts over.
) | ) ) | ) | ) | | | | ) | )
| | | ) | ) | ) ) | ) | ) |
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
Compare this to the walk:
) ) | ) ) | ) ) | ) | ) | | ) | ) | )
) | | ) | ) | ) ) | ) ) | ) ) | ) |
In phases (1),(3),(5) and (7), a three-leg support replaces the one-leg
support of the rack. The lateral and diagonal support phases are
identical for both gaits.
SLOW AND FAST TOLT
The length of the phases depends on
1) regularity of the beat - the ideal for most breeds is a regular
4-beat, with the hooves hitting the
ground at regular intervals.
2) speed - the length of the single-leg support phases increases with
speed. As a horse at the walk accelerates, the length of
the 3-leg support phase decreases until it is eventually
replaced by the one-leg support - the horse racks.
-Slow tolt - short single-leg support phase, long 2-leg
-Fast tolt - shorter 2-leg support, accordingly longer
single-leg support phases.
TROT-TOLT and PACE TOLT
The sequence of the foot-fall for the tolt is always the same. This
is true for all gaited breeds, such as the Saddlebred, the Peruvian Paso,
the Paso Fino, the Tenessee Walker, and the Missouri Foxtrotter. This
has been shown with the use of photography (see Muybridge). The difference
between the variations of the lateral gaits is mainly in the timing of the
hooves hitting and leaving the ground and the resulting shortening or
lengthening of each of the phases.
Pace-tolt: Shortly after the left hind foot hits the ground, the left
front follows. After a longer break, the right hind hits the
ground, followed closely by the right front. The lateral
2-leg support phase is clearly longer than the diagonal
support phase. The rythm is more 1-2--3-4 than the ideal
Trot-tolt: The time interval between the lateral pair of legs hitting
the ground is longer than break between the diagonal pair.
The rythm is 1--2-3--4.
Both types of tolt can changes without smoothly to a clear 1-2-3-4 beat,
or even to another gait. The diagram below shows the continuous spectrum
of the lateral gaits.
pace tolt TOLT tolt trot
ROLLING or VALHOPP (what? a new gait?)
Some horses shift towards the canter when at the tolt. The horse can
roll to either the right or the left side, the same as it can canter
with a right or left lead. The horse basically steps evenly in the
back, while cantering in the front.
Cantering on the right lead, the left hind foot is followed by the
diagonal pair of the right hind and left front feet. The right front
foot then reaches forward.
Now, when the tolting horse rolls toward the right, the right hind foot
follows the left front foot very closely, with a longer break before
the next foot, the front right. The rythm would be 1--2/3--4.
As with the pace-tolt and the trot-tolt, the shift can be smooth,
without an obvious change in gait. However, Valhopp is generally
not a desirable. Slowing the horse down when it happens, and
practicing even gaits mostly on a straight line helps.
DIFFERENCE between PACE and TOLT
At the pace, the lateral pairs of legs move together. But similar to
a gallop, where the diagonal pair of legs doesn't touch the ground
at the same time, both legs on one side of the horse don't touch down
at the same time in the flying pace (a fast pace, also called racing
pace). At high speeds, the hind feet touch down just a little bit
sooner than the front feet on the same side, and leave the ground just
ahead of the front feet too. So the sequence of the foot-fall is
identical to that of the tolt. The rythm is 1/2--3/4. The length
of the breaks 1/2 and 3/4 increases with speed.
So what is the difference? At the tolt, the front leg is still on the
ground, when the hind leg of the opposite side touches down. There is
no suspension. At the pace, there is a phase of suspension (similar
to that at the trot). Phases 4 and 8 of the tolt are replaced, as shown
in the diagram below.
) | ) ) | ) | | | | | | )
| | | | ) | ) ) | ) | |
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
Flying pace, the 'Gait of the Gods', is also very comfortable. 'Laying'
the horse from the canter into the flying pace requires some skill though,
as timing of the aids is crucial. The mood plays a roll too: the horse
has to want to go, and fast.
Standardbred pacers also show a very small delay in the placement of the
hooves of a lateral pair of legs. The track records for pacers are a
few seconds faster than those for their trotting counterparts. Unlike
trotters, pacers don't have to worry about overreaching. Standardbred
horses can also learn to tolt, depending on their conformation. They
then make excellent pleasure horses.
Walter Feldmann Jr., "Ueberlegungen zum Toelt", _Das_Islandpferd_, Vol.
12, No. 53 and No. 54, 1982, contained in _Pony-Magazine_, Vol. 30,
No. 1 and No. 2, 1982
Andrea-Katharina Rostock, Walter Feldmann Jr., _Die_Islandpferdereitlehre_,
6th. Ed. 1992., contains everything you need to know about
Icelandics (feeding to training to showing to judging) plus a large
section on gaited horses around the world and a large bibliography.
_Gangpferde_, publ'd by _Freizeit_im_Sattel_, containing all articles
published in the magazine to date on gaited horses.
Christine Schwartz, _The_Joy_of_Icelandics_, a guide to keeping, riding,
and training Icelandics, available from CIHF, Site 20 Comp 9 RR 1,
Vernon, B.C. V1T 6L4 Canada.
_Canadian_Icelandic_Horse_Federation_Newsletter_, available from the above
VARIATIONS OF LATERAL GAITS FROM HORSE
BREEDS AROUND THE WORLD
Country Gait Breed Footfall/Rhythm
Iceland Tolt Icelandic Horse 1-2-3-4
France Pottok Merens,
North Africa Hetwahr Barb 1-2--3-4
Siar, Rahwan Arabian 1-2-3-4
South Africa Trippel Boer Horse 1-2-3-4
SA Saddle Horse 1-2-3-4
Middle-America Sobre paso Paso 1-2--3-4
Peru Sombreandando Peruvian Paso 1-2--3-4
Paso Llano 1-2-3-4
Columbia Paso Columbian Paso 1-2--3-4
Bolivia Paso Trocha Bol. Paso 1--2-3--4
Brasil Sombre paso Campolino 1-2--3-4
Marcha Mangalarga Marchadore 1-2--3-4
Argentina Ambladura Criollo 1-2--3-4
USA Rack Saddlebred 1-2-3-4
Slow gait 1-2--3-4
Running Walk Tennesse Walker 1-2-3-4
Foxtrott Missouri Foxtrotter 1--2-3--4
Pace Standardbred (1/2)-(3/4)
Paso Fino Paso Fino 1-2-3-4
? Kentucky Mountain ?
? Walkaloosa ?
? Montana Traveler ?
? Mountain Pleasure
(please add here or send info to me)
India Revaal Kathiawari 1-2-3-4
Birma a-tha-cha Pony 1-2-3-4
Russia Perestrup Achal-Tekke 1-2--3-4
China Tsouma Chin. Pony 1-2--3-4
Mongolian Horse (1/2)-(3/4)
1- left hind foot
2- left front foot
3- right hind foot
4- right front foot
Based on a table by Dr. E. Isenbuegel.
The gaits differ also in the amount of action shown by the horses
as well as the speed, and other minor details.
>From Sallijan Snyder (email@example.com) on the PERUVIAN PASO
Following is quoted verbatim and w/o permission from the
Peruvian Paso Promotions brochure.
"The gait of the Peruvian horse is his most unusual quality, and
is the source of many questions. The 'paso llano' is the most
commonly seen of the two acceptable gaits for the Peruvian Paso.
In English, this gait could be called 'smooth walk.' In motion,
the horse's knee and hock on the same side appear to be joined
together, but, unlike the pace, the feet do not strike the ground
at the same time. An even 1,2,3,4 cadence can be heard, with the
hind foot striking the ground just before the forefoot.
"The alternate gait is the 'sobreandando' - a kind of 'overdrive'
that is a shade closer to the pace, while still maintaining the
four-beat cadence. These are the only gaits allowed in the show
ring, and many owners discourage their horses from ever doing
anything else. A judge will often ask that horses be slowed or
accelerated to see what range of speeds they can achieve while
maintaining the pure gait.
"The prepotency of the breed insures that every purebred Peruvian Paso
inherits his unique gait. His training serves only to increase his
muscular development and flexibility, as well as to teach him to
respond to the rider's cues. Since this is a lateral gait, he is
encouraged to keep his body straight, and to flex only in the neck.
No special equipment is ever used to teach or enhance his natural gait
"The Peruvian horse can slow down to the walking speed of other breeds,
and he will also canter or even run with the best of them..."
And yes, they can and will trot. I even found myself posting on
Picardia last Saturday when I realized I was hearing a _2-beat_ cadence.
It was so smooth I almost didn't notice she had changed gaits.
And here is my attempt to reproduce the gait graphs they printed:
Gait pattern for "paso llano"
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
LF x x x x x x x x
LR x x x x x x x x
RR x x x x x x x x
RF x x x x x x
Gait pattern for "sobreandando"
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
LF x x x x x x x x
LR x x x x x x x x
RR x x x x x x x x
RF x x x x x x x
I've been told that the trot is called "paso trote" and is a thing to
be Discouraged. Personally, I like having a 5-gaited saddle horse. :-)
On the TENNESSEE WALKING HORSE from Dan St. Sauveur(firstname.lastname@example.org)
The running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse is a broken pace
characterized by overstride and accompanied by a deep head nod.
Overstride means that the hind hoof is placed on the ground in
front of the print left by the fore on the same side. The pattern
in which the hooves are set down is near hind, near fore, off hind,
and off fore. I have seen various books put maximum overstride at
18" inches and 24". I have seen walkers that did 18" that were
not that big, so I would say 24" is a better upper limit. I have
also heard varying maximum limits on speed from 9-12 miles per
hour. I ride a 16 hand stallion who can really fly and still hit
a good running walk, so again I'd say the latter is probably true.
Tennessee Walking Horses are not the only horses that are able to
do the running walk. Other breeds and TWH crosses may lack the
characteristic head nod, but do a fine broken pace sometimes even
In Shelbyville Tennessee at the Walking Horse Celebration I saw a
Walking mule walked as good as any full bred walker, and walked
better than a lot of walking horses I've seen in New England on
the show circuit this summer.